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Dallas King: Is Aberdeen about to suffer from big screen fatigue?

An Everyman cinema is due to open in Aberdeen in 2024 (Photo: DRG Photography)
An Everyman cinema is due to open in Aberdeen in 2024 (Photo: DRG Photography)

When it was announced that boutique cinema chain Everyman would be opening a new venue in the Bon Accord centre in 2024, the thought running through my head was probably the same one that ran through everyone else’s.

Does Aberdeen really need another cinema?

One can understand Bon Accord’s acquisition from a business standpoint. They want to draw back the customers who have moved across to Union Square and, in turn, become a more attractive prospect for new shops and restaurants.

There is a danger, however, that the Everyman would add to an increasingly crowded marketplace. After all, we currently have four cinemas within a 20-minute walk of each other. Is there a chance Aberdeen could suffer from big screen fatigue?

At one point, the Silver City would not have batted an eyelid at the addition of an extra silver screen or two. Back in the 1930s, Aberdeen actually had the highest number of cinema seats per head of population in the UK.

A spot of healthy competition is always good for the consumer. Naturally, there are a lot of factors that go into one’s decision as to where to watch a movie. What are the showtimes? What is the parking like? Does the pick-and-mix cost more than the actual ticket?

Yet, despite having options as to which cinema to visit, the real issue is a lack of choice about what to watch.

A Catch-22 situation?

When the pandemic forced cinemas to close, some might have wondered if they would ever reopen again. With the rising popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ during lockdown, would people come back for the big screen experience?

Get it right, and the answer is a resounding yes. Let’s be honest, no one spent the last 36 years crying out for a sequel to Top Gun. However, Top Gun: Maverick has been a surprising success. It’s a thrilling piece of filmmaking, designed to make the most of the surround sound and big screen atmosphere, and is appealing to audiences of all ages.

The Queen’s Cinema, right at the heart of Union Street in Aberdeen, pictured in 1969 (Photo: DC Thomson)

The two biggest films of 2021, No Time To Die and Spider-Man: No Way Home, are the third and fourth highest grossing films of all time in the UK.

Cinemas are back. Yet, their overreliance on these types of movies has created a Catch-22 situation: are people going to see them because they like to watch them, or are they watching them because they are the only thing to see?

We need choice, stories and accessibility

A quick look at the listings last weekend showed that, despite there being 26 screens across the city’s three multiplexes, there were only six different films to choose from.

Director Martin Scorsese ruffled a few feathers by saying the current phase of superhero movies were “not cinema”. “The closest I can think of them, as well made as they are… is theme parks,” he added.

Anyone who has watched a film in Cineworld’s 4DX screen, with the moving chairs, smoke machines and wind turbines, can attest to the fact that Scorsese is not completely wrong. Will the multiplex of the future focus on those heightened, multi-sensory experiences?

Take away all the bells and whistles, though, and cinema, at its core, is about telling stories.

Belmont Filmhouse remains vital to the city, as it provides a venue for, and champions, films and stories that the others do not, whether that be independent, arthouse or world cinema. They also have a commitment to accessibility, with a focus on captioning, subtitles and audio description.

Each cinema needs a USP

For cinemas to merit their place in Aberdeen, they must offer an experience that is better than their competition and impossible to recreate at home.

People will always need the opportunity to sit in a darkened room and escape – particularly after the last couple of years

With the current cost of living crisis, less expendable income may result in a trip to the cinema becoming more of a luxury, akin to a meal out at a restaurant or a night at the theatre.

Everyman boasts of being a venue “where you swap your soft drink for a nice glass of red wine and a slice of freshly made pizza served to your seat”. It’s a bold strategy because, on paper, the ability to watch a movie in a plush seat or sofa with your dinner sounds a lot like watching a movie at home.

The plush interior of an Everyman cinema (Photo: Shutterstock)

Thankfully, firsthand experience of the Glasgow Everyman branch suggests that the reality is much more upmarket than Netflix and chill at home, or a cheeky Nando’s and a film in a cinema where half the audience are looking at their phones.

Will there be room for the new kid on the block(buster) in Aberdeen?

Cinema is not going anywhere. People will always need the opportunity to sit in a darkened room and escape – particularly after the last couple of years.

So, to use the popular misquote from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

Dallas King is a film critic, writer and podcaster from Aberdeen

Dallas King: Aberdeen is more than ready for its big cinema close-up

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